Corporate cardholders have complex needs, Citi Commercial Cards has learned in developing its mobile corporate card portal.

In building CitiManager Mobile, Citigroup performed market research with clients of the existing CitiManager Web application. That helped inform decisions such as whether to build a native app and how to incorporate mobile payments.

"Our initial thought was to focus on both cardholders and program administrators, but we found that if we focused first on making life easier for the cardholders, it would also be beneficial for the program administrators," says Paul Horn, a managing director at Citigroup and global product manager of commercial cards.

Citi's development work to extend corporate card services to the mobile channel began nearly a year ago when Citi added text alerts and began researching the market as it built in more functions.

The issuer chose a mobile-optimized design because it's easier to deploy and fits in better with corporate policies governing programs employees can use or attach to their mobile devices, Horn says.  The current product provides account access, statements and transaction tracking from Windows Phone, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices.

The next stage is to add more function for cardholders and program administrators, and ultimately embed technology that uses the mobile device to execute payments, though Horn says that is a long-range plan.

"The whole mobile [acceptance] space is evolving and we haven' t hit the inflection point yet," Horn says. "But we are getting a lot of inquiries  about when we will take the mobile program to the next level."

Enabling mobile phones to execute payments is more complex for corporate users than consumer cardholders because the transactions are varied and are often processed differently—as opposed to consumer card payments, which are less diverse and can share processing technology, says Patricia McGinnis, director of the commercial enterprise payments group at Mercator Advisory Group.

"In corporate payments, you may see trade services, letter of credit, and foreign exchange transactions," McGinnis says, adding some of these payments require multiple signatures to authorize the transactions, and often are require integration with different back end systems at the corporate client's IT network.

"And there are a large number of individuals who have corporate cards but no other authorization to make financial transactions on behalf of the company. All of these use cases require a different approach for the issuer," McGinnis says.

There are other complications—issuing banks have to navigate clients' bring-your-own-device and security policies, McGinnis says. That lends itself to the kind of flexibility Citi is demonstrating with its browser-based approach—which not only opens up more computing devices than a device-specific app would, but can also scale quickly.

"When you talk about why mobile payments are moving more slowly on the corporate side than on the consumer side, it's not just that banks have  a more complex payment product to deliver, but that corporates are also proceeding cautiously in what types of transactions they want to allow on which devices, and what kind of data can be accessed or downloaded to mobile devices," McGinnis says.

Payments and data security are a major concern for companies, she says. "You read all the time about breaches that occurred because somebody tried to download a program, or simply because someone sent work files to their mobile device for working at home."

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